Thursday, October 22, 2020

Federal Government could pay $50 million to NT for return travellers’ coronavirus quarantine

Qantas enforces new coronavirus precautions on flights, but no social distancing

The Commonwealth could end up paying the Northern Territory Government more than $50 million under a plan to bring Australians stranded overseas home via Darwin.

The NT and Australian Governments reached a deal last week to quarantine an estimated 500 people a fortnight in the Howard Springs facility on Darwin’s outskirts.

They would arrive on flights from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and India — with the first due to arrive on Friday.

When announcing the news, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected 5,000 people would return home under the deal before it finishes at the end of March.

Under the arrangements the Commonwealth will foot the quarantine bill for all returning Australians.

“Funding will cover the provision of quarantine accommodation and other services, including hospital services,” a Department of Health spokeswoman told the ABC in a statement.

“This includes capital expenditure, health services and facility operations costs.”

The facility has previously repatriated Australians evacuated from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess cruise ship.(ABC News)

The Department of Health currently expects it will cost $8,000 per person per quarantine period.

The Northern Territory’s Health Minister, Natasha Fyles, said the bill to the Commonwealth could end up being more than $50 million.

“The Northern Territory Department of Health and the Department of Chief Minister have been working with the Commonwealth around the funding,” Ms Fyles said.

“It’s been identified that $50 million, or over $50 million, [could be the total funding required] for this number of repatriation evacuees into Australia.”

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles addresses the media at a press conference.
Ms Fyles did not specify how much the Howard Springs facility is costing NT taxpayers.(ABC News: Jessica Henderson)

While the expected cost for international arrivals is $8,000, the NT Government has previously said the cost for domestic arrivals is about $3,300.

Ms Fyles said the cost difference is due the additional resources required for overseas arrivals.

“It is difficult to calculate a per person fee. There’s a number of factors that come into it,” she said.

“We will be utilising technology to support them and monitor their health, noting that they’re coming from high-risk countries.”

Vulnerable Australians given first seats

Qantas is operating the first eight flights over the next few weeks out of London, Delhi and Johannesburg.

The first one is expected to depart from London on Friday, with another leaving Delhi the following Monday — both carrying 175 people.

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